My father, Josiah Clench, was a furniture maker. He died in the influenza epidemic of 1775. My mother and I had lived comfortably if not luxuriously and I had even been given some schooling, enough at least to write this chronicle. My parents had employed a cook and maid and we occupied a small house in Paddington Green, a small village just outside London. My mother was a seamstress and worked for a dressmaker, Mistress Carter, in Marylebone whose customers were some of the finest ladies in London. She even hinted once that she had seen a well-known Lady-in-Waiting in the premises.
My father’s death was both tragic and disastrous. I can remember my mother in terrible distress, not merely because of the grief of losing the man she loved but also because she knew as I could not that we faced financial ruin. Mistress Carter was a kindly woman but she could not pay enough to sustain our household and, bit by bit, my mother sold off all that she had to sustain us through the rest of the winter of 1775. Eventually we were forced to relinquish our house and move into lodgings she could barely afford. I was approaching 14 years and had tried in vain to get work for myself but to no avail.
One day my mother returned, late as ever, from her workplace and told me as we ate bread and stale cheese that she hoped she might have found salvation for us or at least for me. One of Mistress Carter’s customers needed an assistant to help with her household and was prepared to consider me for the position. I was required, therefore, to dress as best I could and report to that lady’s house on the morrow.
It was a bright, cold Monday morning and the streets of London glistened with frost as I walked the 3 miles to the home of Mistress Pickles. All I knew of her was that she was a lady of mature years and that she had a large income from the estate of her late husband. So much I had gleaned from my mother. I wore my best dress and shoes although neither was in the best of condition. I wore a hat, scarf and gloves and, promptly at ten of the morning I pulled the bell at the tradesman’s entrance to her grand home. I waited patiently until a woman dressed almost like a butler answered the door.
‘You must be Miss Maude Clench?’ I confirmed that I was and was admitted into the house and led by the strangely attired woman to a room on the first floor of the house by way of a servants’ stairway which gave onto a sumptuously furnished landing. She knocked and waited before being granted admission, announced me to someone whom I could not see and gently but firmly pushed me into the presence of Mistress Pickles. This lady examined me and, it seems, decided I would do.
Without speaking to me she said to the ‘butler,’ ‘Jenkins, Maude here will share with Amy. Find her a decent dress and shoes and bring her to me at 2 this afternoon.’ Such was my introduction to Mistress Pickles.
That afternoon, precisely at 2 pm I was again led to her. This time she bade me sit and, when she had finished writing a letter which she handed imperiously to Jenkins who departed immediately, she addressed me.
‘Your duties will be to write letters to my dictation, to deal with my correspondence and to run errands for me as required. You will receive food and board and some small stipend. Jenkins will advise you of the household’s rules and you will obey them to the letter. If you breach those rules you will be dismissed at once and without discussion, is that clear?’ I said it was perfectly clear and started to thank her for her kindness but she silenced me with a wave of her hand. ‘I will advise you personally of three of my rules. The first is that you speak only when required to do so. The second is that you only come to my office when summonsed. The third is that you never speak to anyone of anything you may see or learn in this household. Do I make myself clear?’ I said that it was perfectly clear and she dismissed me.
The first few days passed uneventfully. I learned my duties from Jenkins and did my utmost to fulfill them. I was somewhat surprised by the number of ladies who occupied rooms throughout the upper storeys of the house and the number of ladies who visited Mistress Pickles. I made no enquiry and kept myself to myself. On the Friday evening I was instructed to retire early to my room and not leave it unless instructed. This was a pattern that was maintained over the ensuing years, for I served her for 4 years in that capacity, attending upon her to take dictation or alone in my small office working. Jenkins was aloof and cold. She ran the domestic staff firmly but in a distant manner as if she cared not slightly for us. Amy was a small cowed woman of perhaps 25 who seldom, if ever spoke and then only of her duties. Some nights she did not come to our shared room but I never learned why not. I had a half day a week off and was allowed to visit my mother whose health was deteriorating but who seemed pleased that I had found a suitable position. That was a hard time to be destitute and she dreaded the thought of my being hurled out onto the street and perpetually counseled me to behave and obey without question although I needed no such advice.
It was early in the year 1780 that I was sent for. Jenkins came to my small office where I was writing a letter to the grocer complaining of poor quality provisions and notifying him that any repetition of his failings would lead to Mistress Pickles no longer patronizing his establishment. I placed my pen carefully in the rack, sanded the letter and hastily followed Jenkins, attired as she always was in her manly butler uniform and attended upon Mistress Pickles.
‘Maude is such a dreary name. Henceforth you will be Madeleine.’ You may imagine my surprise. She stood and walked to where I was standing almost at attention. ‘Do you have any French?’ I replied that I did not. ‘A pity, but we shall make do with what we have. It may not have escaped your attention that I provide a salon for ladies who care to visit and spend their time with other ladies?’ I said I had no idea what went on in the house. She smiled at this, recognising it for the lie that it was but appreciating, I think, my discretion. She placed her hands on my arms and almost caressed me. ‘You have developed into an attractive girl, Madeleine. For the next few weeks you will be required to attend upon my soirees and serve drinks and food as directed by Jenkins. You will receive a new uniform which she will organise. Do you understand?’ Although I said I did, I did not entirely comprehend but I was led away by Jenkins and later that day provided with my new uniform, a long, dark blue dress with a white pinafore and white cap which tied behind my neck. I was also given new underwear, bloomers that were tight around my leg below the knee and open at my private parts, a large white underskirt and a bodice. I had never worn such fine clothes and was surprised to see that I had 2 sets of undergarments which I was instructed to ensure were laundered to the highest standard at all times.
I may have said that I had no idea what went on in her house and it was largely true. As I said, I knew women visited in surprising numbers and that a number of women occupied the upper floors but beyond that I knew nothing. Jenkins led me to her pantry and sat me on a solid chair of the sort my father might have made.
‘Have you ever heard of Sapphic love, girl?’ I confessed I had not. ‘It is the joyous union of women. Our Mistress, who enjoys the company of other women, has many friends who share that love but who, for reasons of public disquiet, may not be open about it. Here these women are free to indulge their delightful and harmless passions and we are here to ensure their every need is met. Do you understand?’
‘I think so, Miss Jenkins.’ In truth, I did not.
To my horror she produced from her cupboard a long, slender schoolmistress’s cane which she alarmingly slashed across the table. She addressed me in a most menacing manner, ‘Should you breath one word of the activities in this household you will feel the kiss of Miss Jenkins’s friend here and then you will be thrown onto the street. Go about your business and await instructions.’ It will not surprise you, dear reader, that I did precisely as instructed.
That Friday evening was my first introduction to Mistress Pickles’s soiree. I dressed in my uniform and went, as ordered, to the anteroom on the first floor where Jenkins had assembled the staff. Amy was there along with two other girls whom I had not encountered before. We were given our orders and each took a tray of champagne glasses filled with the foaming wine and passed into the salon through a communicating door. I nearly dropped my tray! I had heard a gently murmur of conversation in the room before entering but had imagined ladies passing the time of day. My expectations did not include the fact that some of these ladies would be naked or nearly so. There were probably six ladies fully dressed and clearly of the highest social order. Fine silks, lace and satins adorned them. The ladies with whom they were engaged in conversation were equally finely dressed where they wore clothes at all. All six of these ladies were revealing at least their bosoms and two were clad only in bloomers similar to those I wore myself. They behaved as if this was the most natural thing in the world.
I followed Amy and the others in walking around the room dispensing wine. Throughout the evening women, in pairs, would leave the room and return later, sometimes together, sometimes separately. I had only the vaguest idea of what was going on. The evening lasted into the night and on into the early morning.
And so was I introduced to the activities of Mistress Pickles’ household. I served in this way for a good few months while continuing my normal duties and it was one such evening that Mistress Pickles took me aside to a small side room from the salon. She was dressed beautifully and her hair shone in the light of the small candelabrum that lit the room.
‘You have served well, Madeleine. You are a beautiful woman and I intend to give you the opportunity to improve yourself. You have seen some of the activities my ladies enjoy but some are more private and hence unknown to you.’ She took my hand. ‘If, my dear, you wish to leave my service then you shall and with a reference and with a small, let us say, financial incentive to keep the secrets of this house.’ I protested that I did, by no means wish to leave her service for, I confess, the sights I had observed had aroused in me certain stirrings which I could not explain but which excited me. I also assured her of my discretion should she decide, as I hoped she would not, to terminate my employment.
‘You have seen the work that the resident ladies of this house are engaged upon, at least in part. Should you wish to join their number,’ here she approached me, took my hand and caressed it in a far from maternal way, ‘then you shall surely receive handsome reward which would allow you and your mother to improve your unhappy circumstances. I know my guests” would greatly enjoy your company.’
I hesitated but only for a moment. ‘I should very much like to join your ladies but, Mistress Perkins, I feel ill-equipped to do so.’
She smiled, ‘Of course you are my dear but Jenkins shall teach you the joy of Sapphic love and then you will join my ladies during the soirees henceforth.’ I had lived to this date almost as a nun. I had never been touched my any person other than my parents and I knew nothing of bodily love, Sapphic or otherwise. I had always imagined I was a sort of novice nun, confined and reserved. I was terrified of Jenkins and dreaded the prospect of what was to come. She rang a small bell and Jenkins entered. ‘Take Madeleine and teach her.’ She turned to me, ‘Jenkins is not the ogre she may appear to you, Madeleine. She rules my household with a firm hand but she is a skilled and attentive lover. Learn from her.’ With a wave of her hand were dismissed.
Jenkins led me to her private quarters. She had me sit on the edge of her bed, a lumpy, narrow cot but clean and freshly dressed with white cotton sheets unlike the harsh blankets on my own bed. Jenkins removed her tailed coat and released her hair, which was long and black, from the tight bun she habitually wore. She shook it loose and studied me.
‘Do only what you are told.’ I remembered her cane and knew I would obey. She slowly removed her waistcoat and finely starched cotton shirt until she stood before me, her small breasts tipped with small hard nipples. She touched her hand to her breast and gave a small moan of pleasure. She guided her nipple to my mouth and bade me suckle it. I did so tentatively but she held my head to her and gave instructions, ‘Roll it between your lips. Squeeze it with your lips. Touch it with your tongue – more firmly, lick it – better, oh yes, good girl.’ Never had she said such nice words to me. I was alarmed when her hands fumbled to remove my pinafore, then open the top of my dress as I attended upon her breast. She felt inside my clothes and her hand, surprisingly soft, cupped my breast and then she pushed me from hers and her mouth descended upon my own breast and replicated what I had done to hers. Some vestige of my upbringing told me this was wrong but, oh, how the pleasure coursed through me and I felt unfamiliar stirrings deep inside me. Never had I felt such physical pleasure. Abruptly she stood and slowly removed her lower garments. Her shoes came off first, her eyes locked on mine. Her britches followed and she folded them carefully and placed them on a chair. She did not wear bloomers like mine, but silk shorts which had a delicious transparency to them, such delicate material were they fashioned in. I could perceive through them a dark triangle similar to that which covered my most private of parts. Soon though I was gazing on that triangle uncovered and watched as she sat, brazenly spreading her legs and touching herself, stroking her fingers into that cluster of dark curls. She beckoned me with a curling finger and guided me to kneel before her. All I knew of even my own body was that this was the source of my waters and the blood of my monthly flow. What was expected of me? Her hands guided me to her and then her words instructed me. I licked and kissed that delicious fold between her legs, following her enjoinders. Wrong though my inner conscience was telling me that this was, my body was giving me a completely contrary opinion. Moments later and I was sitting with Jenkins kneeling as I had been, my dress pushed up and discovering for myself the intimate pleasure as she spread the gap in my bloomers and hungrily devoured me as she had made me attend upon her. I felt a finger probe inside me and suddenly I began to feel a sensation like none other I had ever experienced. I had a ringing in my ears and shocks, like lightning, passed through me from her tongue to my nipples to my toes to my scalp. I almost swooned such was the intensity of it. But this was not to be the end. Moments later I was entirely naked as was Jenkins. She arranged me so on the bed that she could conjoin her private parts with mine and, her hands on my shoulders, she ground herself against me and continued to do so in a delicious crescendo of passion until she too arched her back and swooned in like manner to me.
‘Tomorrow, you will attend upon the Mistress in her bedchamber at nine of the morning. You will demonstrate the things I have shown you. Serve her well or you will feel my friend’s kiss. Now dress and attend upon our guests.’ Thus dispatched I returned to the salon and fulfilled my duties but I confess my mind was not entirely engaged.
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